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Washington cell phone law: Majority of drivers are putting their phones down

Jordan Hutson, 18, chats on his cell phone while driving during a Washington State Patrol lab in June at the WSP Academy in Shelton to test how talking on a cell phone affects a person’s ability to drive a vehicle.   - Jesse Beals/file photo
Jordan Hutson, 18, chats on his cell phone while driving during a Washington State Patrol lab in June at the WSP Academy in Shelton to test how talking on a cell phone affects a person’s ability to drive a vehicle.
— image credit: Jesse Beals/file photo

While some drivers still chat on their cell phones, a growing number of motorists are using Bluetooth wireless devices.

The cell phone law took effect July 1 and one month later, Washington State Patrol (WSP) Trooper Krista Hedstrom, spokeswoman for WSP District 8, said people seem to be getting the message.

“People are aware of it. It’s been on the (television) news, it’s been on the radio, it’s been in the newspapers,” Hedstrom said.

The cell phone law makes it illegal to talk on a phone while driving a vehicle. Motorists are required to wear a hands-free set or use their phone’s speakerphone function while driving in the state.

Hedstrom said WSP troopers stopped 542 motorists across the state within the past month, writing 195 tickets and issuing many written and verbal warnings. Troopers in Kitsap County made 16 stops and issued 13 tickets and three warnings.

Hedstrom said the numbers are “right about what (WSP) expected” because most motorists are complying with the new law.

Driving while talking on a cell phone is a secondary infraction, meaning police cannot pull over motorists for talking on cell phones alone. Motorists must have committed some other offense to be cited under the new law.

“It’s a secondary violation so we’ve seen some people talking on cell phones, but can’t stop them,” Hedstrom said.

Deputy Scott Wilson, spokesman for the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office, said the department just recently recoded its records system to include the new cell phone law and not all infraction notices have been processed into the database. Wilson added that the sheriff’s office does not have an exact count on how many tickets have been issued regarding the cell phone law.

Another law regarding sending, reading and writing text messages while driving took effect Jan. 1 and as of Aug. 5, sheriff’s deputies have written 11 tickets for texting while driving, Wilson said. The texting while driving law also is a secondary infraction.

Hedstrom said she has seen an increase in the number of motorists who use hands-free cellular devices while cruising local roadways.

“For the most part I see a lot of people talking on speakerphone which is OK, but we’re seeing a lot of people talking on Bluetooth or hands-free devices,” Hedstrom said.

Alecia Hennum, a senior representative with T-Mobile in Kitsap Mall, said the sales of Bluetooth wireless devices have increased since the cell phone law took effect.

Hennum said customers say they are buying Bluetooth devices because of the law. She added that the T-Mobile sales staff always tells customers there are other options to chatting while driving, such as utilizing the speakerphone function on cell phones.

“A lot of (customers) just seem to feel better buying the Bluetooth,” Hennum said.

She said she thinks other local cell phone providers are probably seeing a similar boost in Bluetooth sales because of the law.

“I would imagine so just because it seems to be everybody’s perception of the law that they have to use a Bluetooth,” Hennum said.

Despite the rise in Bluetooth sales, Hedstrom said some motorists will continue to talk on their cell phones while driving without utilizing a wireless device.

“Some people just get set in their ways,” she said. “It’s like the seat belt law. Some people are going to do what they’re going to do.”

Hedstrom said it’s still too early to tell if the cell phone law is making Washington state roads safer, but more and more motorists are strapping on Bluetooth devices in hopes of avoiding a monetary fine and causing a collision.

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